Head Coffee Recap October 2019

Pursuing excellence, inviting parent feedback.

Dear Town Community,

Thank you to all who were able to join me on Friday, October 4th for my first Parent Coffee of the year. I appreciated the chance to share with you what’s on my mind, all centered around the pursuit of excellence at Town, and to hear what you are thinking about. Unsurprisingly, we are aligned on Town’s top priority: doing everything we can to ensure our students’ success.

If you were not able to attend in person, I have included below a recap of my remarks, along with parents’ questions (and my answers). If you would like further information, or would like to continue this conversation, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Warmly,

Doug Signature First Name.jpg

Douglas Brophy
Head of School
Parent, Class of 2025

Excellence: How we’re achieving it, and where we must achieve it.

How our students exemplify excellence

I was with Nursery 4 students recently, as they were meeting the 30 snails the class will care for and study over the course of the entire year. Their sense of wonder and excitement was palpable. Right away they were full of questions about the snails’ features and habits, and I could tell that some of their questions would require a lot of research and observation. Deep learning comes from asking good, challenging questions and engaging in the healthy struggle that leads to complex thinking, analysis, and understanding. 
 
A few days later, I spoke with the 8th graders about their annual trip to Washington, DC which kicks off their history curriculum. They met legislators, visited landmarks, and even met Town alums living and working in DC. The students told me the highlight of their trip was the Lincoln Memorial, specifically the plaque honoring Dr. King’s “Dream” speech. The students shared that Dr. King’s words inspired them to reflect on the founding ideals of our country, both met and not yet met. Such thoughtfulness reflects an essential part of learning at Town: the intersection of scholarship, citizenship, and leadership.
 
From Nursery through 8th grade, we want all Town students to engage similarly in healthy struggle to answer their own burning questions and to reflect on how their curriculum connects to the wider world. This is the kind of learning that builds lifelong scholars and engaged citizens.

Academic technology

Following up on last year’s discussions, academic technology and computational thinking are now part of curriculum at every grade level, as both stand-alone classes and integrated into core curriculum, and we will continue to deepen this part of Town's program. Integration is where educational technology can be most powerful, such as in the digital art elective for 8th grade or coding polygon-based 3D objects in mathematics in 7th grade.

Update on the Capstone Experience

Capstone currently exists for our 8th graders in the form a series of guest speakers, inspiring students to reflect and ultimately share how their passion can have purpose. We know the best learning is augmented by doing, and therefore we are evolving the Capstone Experience to incorporate our S.O.S values, through service learning. We are partnering with the Cloud Institute to design sustainability-themed service programs and to extend Capstone to 7th grade, for a deeper experience. I am also working to secure targeted funding to support a culminating 8th grade service-related trip.

Excellence, equity and inclusion

As I’ve observed in other settings, we cannot have academic excellence without multiculturalism, and we cannot have multiculturalism without equity and inclusion. Access for all students, faculty/staff, and families is essential, as is ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard. To this end, faculty and staff are continuing our own professional development work, focused on increasing our own racial-equity consciousness. Deepening this work will provide the foundation for our taking a fresh, honest, and informed look at protocols, practices, and program. 

We have several upcoming, related opportunities for parents including workshops, a new equity book club, and a parent coffee with our Director of Equity and Community. All of these events are opportunities to partner with us in this aspect of your children’s education.

Teachers as learners

Great educators are always striving to also be successful learners, and we see this open approach so much at Town, notably in our teacher coaching. Mirroring the executive-coaching model that seeks to maintain levels of professional excellence, Town teachers have participated in math and literacy coaching since last school year. The openness to coaching, the sharing between colleagues, and the way our teachers are creating a space for constructive feedback are perfect examples of what it means to always aspire to academic excellence.

The academic team (myself, Division Heads, and the Academic Dean) have also been exploring how we can complement our faculty's self-directed growth with even more constructive feedback and classroom visits. 

Access

I am so grateful for moments like parent coffees, and for the flow of parents into my office for smaller-group conversations. This year, I will also attend the February Parents’ Association meeting, and I am visiting each faculty Divisional two times and reaching out in other ways. I am working to offer varied options for connection as your feedback is so important to me as the leader of our school.

Excellence requires financial stewardship.

Town’s fiscal health is in great shape, thanks to thoughtful financial planning and management, a very strong endowment that generates earnings in support of our operating budget, and targeted fundraising. We are a nonprofit, so your tuition payments go directly back into our school’s program and operations, and - not least - into attracting and retaining the best faculty. My colleagues and I acknowledge the impact of tuition for Town families. It is also important to acknowledge that tuition covers only 80% of our operating budget, which is why Annual Giving is essential as a marker of parent engagement and as a generator of important funds. 

Long-Range Planning

We are currently engaged in focused, strategic planning that is inclusive and transparent, led by my vision and informed by our entire community including alumni/ae families, former employees, and grandparents. Our steering committee has met to begin our process, and I thank the many of you who filled out the community survey. The survey data will be complemented by focus groups and a Town Hall meeting (open to all community adults) on November 13th. Next steps will include analyzing the data and shaping a plan with distinct goals.

Highlights from parent questions.

On the theme of academic excellence and looking towards college, do 6th and 7th graders understand the importance of their work when grades begin to be reflected on their transcripts?

Our Upper School advisor model and thoughtfully scaffolded teaching establish clear expectations and instill in children an understanding of the importance of consistent, quality work, while allowing for the many learning moments that are part of growing up. We are always developmentally appropriate in communicating with students how their academic work will be a part of their high school application process. At the "High School Placement 101" Parent Coffee on October 23rd and as part of the January “welcome to Upper School” evening for current 4th grade parents, we’ll talk about many things including how to partner with Town to support your children in preparing for the high school process. We are also very proud of our placement process and school acceptance list. We are preparing your children in the best way, by starting early in having the right conversations with families and students about all aspects of the process. 

How will Town include students in discussions about what is sure to be a contentious election season?

The academic team and I very much agree we should address this in developmentally appropriate ways with the students, and we are working to design a framework to guide teachers in all grades. From our evolving 7th and 8th grade Capstone Experience focus around sustainability and service learning to Town’s emphasis on community, civic responsibility, and citizenship at all ages, helping students engage with national and global issues is well-aligned with our program and mission. It is important to learn we are part of something bigger than ourselves, and to develop a strong appreciation - and the necessary skills - for a healthy exchange of ideas.

How are we balancing academic technology with traditional literacy?

I and our academic leaders, including Director of Technology Grant Olds, review all potential classroom technology with the primary question of how it serves Town’s mission and our students’ learning. We regularly reflect on whether a tool serves learning goals in the way we hope. We want technology be transformative, not simply a replacement for a non-digital tool.

In closing:

I shared part of a poem, Elegy in Joy written by the 20th century activist and poet Muriel Rukeyser:

Nourish beginnings, let us nourish beginnings.
Not all things are blest, but the
seeds of all things are blest.
The blessing is in the seed.

Thank you.

From the privilege of teaching your children to all of the ways in which you partner with us, there are so many seeds that each and every one of you plant at Town every day…and the commitment you make to our school is nothing short of remarkable. So I encourage us all to nourish our beginning, and, acknowledging your entrusting us with your children’s education…we thank you for it, and aim to honor it every day...living in and aspiring to excellence.

Contact

540 East 76th Street
New York 10021
p 212-288-4383
f 212-988-5846
info@townschool.org